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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7061


Senator BARNETT (9:35 AM) —Thank you, Minister, for that response. As I am standing here, I cannot rely on, nor do I think it is appropriate for the public of Australia to rely on, somebody simply saying they `think' and `hope' and express confidence that a certain outcome will take place. What we can do—now, here, today—is design a regime and say, `This is how it will be.' We can rule out drug testing on human embryos and human embryo stem cells. The minister made a number of other comments. I would like to address some of them. Firstly, with respect to consent and counselling, I think it is very good to have on the record, from the minister's perspective, that there will be adequate counselling, because that is another issue, as is appropriate consent of the donors of the human embryos. My point about that—and we will certainly be coming to this later in the debate—is that that is set out in the guidelines. It is not set out in any regulation; it is set out in this document entitled Ethical guidelines on assisted reproductive technology. This document is not a disallowable instrument. This is not a regulation and this is not law. This is a guideline, and a guideline is a guideline. That is why it should be embedded in the bill itself.

The minister's point about the donors is that they have to give consent—point taken. But we were all once a human embryo. Every person in this chamber and in this nation of Australia was once a human embryo, and we have rights too. Human embryos have rights too. That is why this is a controversial debate. That is why we are standing here expressing heartfelt concern from different perspectives. I respect the minister's perspective and I acknowledge her concern and care, which is expressed in a different way from the way I and perhaps others in the chamber express it. I respect all of that, but I say that those human embryos have rights. I say that the size and function of a human being should not determine the level of respect and honour that should be bestowed on that human being.

We talk about drug testing. The whole purpose of this bill is meant to be designed for therapeutic purposes or for cures, and I have said many times that the end does not justify the means. But even if you do accept in this case that it does, surely drug testing on a human embryo is not appropriate. Surely the destruction of a human embryo for a cure is the only way that you would want it. That is why I have designed one of these amendments to see if I can get a sympathetic response.

One of the four points that the minister made was that if we just exclude those certain types of research, there is a danger, because the exclusion may not be comprehensive. Her concern is that if we list some, we may not list others. Let us focus on the intent of the bill—which you will remember was designed for cures, wasn't it?—which was to help people. That is the purpose according to the proponents of the bill. One of my proposed amendments is that the committee may only issue the licence to authorise the extraction from human embryos of human embryo stem cells and for no other purpose. Why would you not support that? What is wrong with that? Surely, that is consistent with the minister's view and the concern that it does not rule out other options. It is specifically for the extraction from a human embryo of human embryo stem cells and for no other purpose. Why can we not say that? If that is what this debate is about, why do we not go with it and take it on board? Let us say that it is for no purpose other than for trying to obtain a cure. I request those on the other side of this debate to think carefully about it and I say, `Why wouldn't you support this proposed amendment?'

The minister is confident that the regime will rule out frivolous testing. That is heartening, but it is not heartening enough, because it is not law. It is not in this bill. Yes, there is a regime there, but the regime leaves the door open. That is what concerns me. I say that drug testing on a human embryo or embryo stem cell is an abhorrent act. I see it—and of course this is a personal view—as demeaning. I see it as the worst nightmare that has been foisted on the Australian public. This whole debate about drug testing concerns me greatly. The minister says that it should be ethically and scientifically appropriate. Well, ethically and scientifically appropriate to whom? Here we are in this chamber, designing a regime which COAG says should be a strict regime. They say we should proceed cautiously. We support that, so why do we not back it up by ensuring that we have tight guidelines and not allow this type of testing on a human embryo?

It is concerning and perhaps one does get a bit hot under the collar in these sorts of debates. I feel strongly about it, and that is why I am standing here. The minister talked about the criteria that would be set under this so-called regime in which the minister has confidence. The criteria talk about a significant advance in knowledge. If the committee then decides that drug testing on a human embryo or a human embryo stem cell is appropriate and does in their view provide for a significant advance in knowledge, well, bingo! You're on! It happens; the door is open and away you go. Down the track it is a possibility. Is that what we actually want? Is that appropriate for this great nation of Australia? There are a lot of individuals that fill up this nation and they all deserve respect. The human embryo, the smallest of human beings, deserves respect. This loophole in the proposed legislation should be ruled out. It should be eliminated. We should treat the human embryo with dignity and respect.